Last week, Joe Banner gave us his two most underrated teams heading into the 2021 NFL season. This week, Banner offers up his two most overrated NFL teams:
There are a lot of people that think Tennessee is ready to make a jump to the Super Bowl, but I would be surprised if they were even able to win their division. If they were to make it to the playoffs, barring any injuries, the Titans would be a team I would want to face if I was leading another AFC club.
The first things I look at when evaluating a team are the quarterback and the offensive and defensive line play. I like Ryan Tannehill and think he is good, but he is not phenomenal. He is coming off a few of his best seasons, in which he has stayed healthy, but I also see a player that will be 33 by the start of training camp that has had previous knee and shoulder injuries.
Up front, I think their lines are solid but I do not see anyone as a true difference maker. You also have to worry about their best player on the offensive line, Taylor Lewan. After playing in 15-plus games for four straight years, Lewan opened 2019 with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. In 2020, Lewan suffered a torn ACL in Week 6 and missed the remainder of the season. Lewan will be 30 by the start of this season and there is no guarantee he will return to Pro Bowl form, or if he will even be at 100% heading into Week 1. Tennessee was also unable to re-sign RT Jack Conklin a season ago, replacing him with Kendall Lamm, a certain downgrade. I still think the Titans have a good line, but I do not consider it as good as it was a few seasons ago and certainly not to the level of some of the other AFC contenders like Indianapolis or Kansas City, which was able to add Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown this offseason.
Tennessee’s weapons are intriguing to me, but I also am not praising them like some people around the league are. Derrick Henry is clearly a difference-making player but he has led the league in rushing attempts the past two seasons with 681 carries. Second on the list is Dalvin Cook with only 562 carries. Henry is entering his sixth season and that is typically when great running backs begin to decline some, so I question whether or not he can reach 2,000 rushing yards, like he did a season ago. At wide receiver, A.J. Brown is certainly a difference-making player and is on the path to becoming one of the league’s top receivers.
That is one of the reasons I would have advised against trading a second- and fourth-round pick for Julio Jones. People that are still talking about him as a top five receiver in the league are mistaken. As I noted before the trade, I still think Jones is a solid player and an above-average route runner. He just is not the same player he was earlier in his career and he has major injury concerns, specifically an ankle that is not expected to ever reach 100% again. Combined with the draft capital it cost to acquire him, he has three seasons left under his current contract with over $38 million remaining, including $17.3 million in remaining guarantees. I think it is a very realistic possibility he only plays under this current deal for one more season.
Their defense is okay but they need to generate pressure at a higher clip, and they need to do a better job in coverage. In the first round of this year’s draft, they selected Caleb Farley from Virginia Tech, who is a compelling prospect but has had multiple back surgeries already and has not shown he can survive the rigors of an NFL season. On the other side, they added Janoris Jenkins after he was let go by New Orleans with two years left under contract. He also turns 33 next season and has had some injury concerns in recent years. I do like Kevin Byard in the back-end and he has stayed healthy, but he needs to continue to produce like some of the league’s other top safeties.
In free agency, they paid Bud Dupree handsomely. Dupree is coming off one of his best seasons in Pittsburgh, even though it was cut short by a late-season torn ACL. There is no guarantee he will be ready by Week 1, and he is certainly not going to be at 100% when he first takes the field.
For me, I just think there are too many question marks throughout their roster to consider them Super Bowl contenders right now or even to anoint them division winners at the moment.
New Orleans Saints
It is really all about the quarterback with New Orleans. They have invested a lot in the offensive line and have built a really strong core with a lot of high picks in recent years. Left tackle Terron Armstead will be 30 next season and entering the final year of his deal but he has remained relatively healthy, and they recently signed RT Ryan Ramczyk to a long extension that leaves open the possibility he could move over to left tackle if Armstead eventually moves on. On the interior, they have three guys — Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy and Cesar Ruiz — that were all high picks by New Orleans and have been good contributors since entering the league.
The defense has been improving and I think they will still be solid this year because they have a lot of pieces, but I do have some reservations. Cam Jordan is already 32 and only had 7.5 sacks last year after three seasons with 12-plus. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is only 25 but will be wanting a new deal playing under the fifth-year option. I do not think he played well last year, and he is already dealing with hampering soft tissue injuries. He also faces potential league discipline going into 2021 following an offseason arrest. Opposite Lattimore, New Orleans is left with C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who they have primarily used in the slot, Patrick Robinson, who will be 34 in September and has dealt with injuries, and third-round pick Paulson Adebo, who elected to opt out of his final season at Stanford. Add in Demario Davis, who is already 32 and Malcolm Jenkins, who will be 34 this season, and they have a really aging defense.
On offense, I have worked with Sean Payton and have a lot of respect for him as a head coach. I have a tremendous amount of faith in Payton, but I am unsure how good their quarterback play will be. I do not think Jameis Winston will be a disaster and they do have Taysom Hill, who will get an elevated role, but people are talking about New Orleans as a perennial playoff team with a good chance to advance. I just think it will be a challenge for them to make the playoffs, largely due to the unknowns at quarterback, and I do not think they are capable of a deep run if they do make it into the postseason.
Jack Wolov contributed to this story